Stay Alive

on March 24, 2006 by Kevin Courrier
Since video games are now cross-pollinating with movies ("The Godfather") and TV-shows ("Alias," "24"), it's timely to shape a horror story around our obsession with virtual reality. "Stay Alive," though, does virtually nothing with that obsession. Rather than draw us into the insular world of hardcore gamers, the characters turn out to be as thinly drawn as their computer counterparts. "Stay Alive" quickly pronounces itself dead by simply recycling tired plot hooks from "The Ring" and "Final Destination."

When a game tester is brutally murdered after playing a new computer game called Stay Alive, his surviving friends find themselves in possession of it. This horror survival match, which is based on the story of a murdering 17th-century noblewoman called the Blood Countess, leaves them dying to play it. Once they get started, though, they begin dying because of it. One by one, each of them starts getting killed in the same manner that their character is butchered in the game. As they get picked off, quicker than Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians," they have to find a way to defeat their bloodthirsty host and survive.

Since the director and co-writer William Brent Bell does little to contrast the contrived and mechanical horror of the game with the mounting horror of the story, we can't invest much sympathy in the plight of the characters. However, Jon Foster, who played the bright, thoughtful kid with the crush on his English teacher in the ill-fated TV show "Life As We Know It," makes the best of a bad script as the hero with a secret trauma. Frankie Muniz of "Malcolm in the Middle" also has his resourceful moments as the group's resident computer geek. Unfortunately, the women (Samaire Armstrong and Sophia Bush) have so little to do that they get reduced to monster bait. On the other hand, the aggressively hyperactive Adam Goldberg, who seems to be wearing Steve Van Zandt's hairpiece from "The Sopranos," thankfully gets dispatched briskly so that he has less scenery to chew. Starring Jon Foster, Samaire Armstrong, Frankie Muniz, Jimmi Simpson and Adam Goldberg. Directed by William Brent Bell. Written by William Brent Bell and Matthew Peterman. Produced by Gary Barber, Roger Bimbaum and Jonathan Glickman. A Buena Vista release. Horror. Rated PG-13 for horror violence, disturbing images, language, brief sexual and drug content. Running time: 85 min

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